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JSTOR helps people discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content through a powerful research and teaching platform, and preserves this content for future generations. JSTOR is part of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit organization that also includes Ithaka S+R and Portico. For more information about JSTOR, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. PRAGMATISM AND POLITICS BY WARWICK CHIPMAN Montreal, Canada It may seem paradoxical to suggest, of a doctrine essentially impa- tient of the absolute, that it bids fair to become the chief bulwark of an absolutism the more tyrannical because it is false. Yet a democ- racy forgetting freedom, and a philosophy careless of principles, do, in fact, go hand in hand together. Nowhere better than in politics could the pragmatic creed be applied; and nowhere does it become more immediately clear that pragmatism has no creed. In this it is the motto of democracy in action, which is abandoning more and more not only creeds as creeds, but even the very creed that brought it into being. In doing so, democracy threatens to entrammel men for a time more effectively than ever they were trammelled in the past, through the very optimism of its crude practicality; seeking to achieve in one generation, and by extraneous rules, the blessings which only the long discipline of character can ever bring to the world. Lovers of liberty, then, if they would serve her now, must see that a philosophy without a standard, a wisdom that will not criticise, a doctrine that will not lead, is the greatest foe of all they have to fight. An irreverent critic once remarked that doubtless we should all like to be pragmatists if only we knew what we should be if we were prag- matists. I am sure that it would be very easy for any accommodating person to find out that he was on the whole a pragmatist. But with a full reserve of my right to be accommodating on some other occasion, the present purpose requires a sterner frame of mind. Pragmatism is a big belief quite satisfactory to those only whose belief is still bigger. It is, I take it, the doctrine that an idea is true if it works. But inasmuch as not all that works is worth working; inasmuch as not all that works for to-day, works in the long run; inasmuch as it is as well to know, before practical demonstration, whether or not we are working with temporal dynamite; and inasmuch as Pragmatism considers none of these things: I wish to suggest that it is not altogether admirable when applied to politics. 189 190 PROCEEDINGS OF THE At first sight it must appear ungrateful to quarrel with a school that proclaims faith as the greatest of human forces. For no one could ask a better inspiration. But what is the faith that is to be this force? Here Pragmatism is silent, giving us a handle, but no tool. Strange, then, that its most brilliant exponent should begin his lectures upon it by this quotation from Mr. Chesterton: "There are some people — and I am one of them — who think that the most practical and impor- tant thing about a man is still his view of the universe. . . . We think that for a general about to fight an enemy it is important to know the enemy's numbers, but still more important to know the enemy's philosophy. We think the question is not whether the theory of the cosmos affects matters, but whether in the long run anything else affects matters." — Where so much is granted to theory, what, may we ask, is left to practicality? In point of fact, however, the quotation from Mr. Chesterton is most inapplicable to Pragmatism, which usually is careful to disclaim any attitude so superior, so dogmatic, as the theoretical. It is unsparing in its criticism of the absolute, because the absolute does not achieve. It has an utter contempt for all the treatises "on God and Love and Being, helplessly existing in their monumental vacuity." There is, indeed, a certain amount of justification for this standpoint. A philosophy, above all a political philosophy, which exalts the human will but never dallies with short cuts to human victory, which bids men enter by the door and not climb up some other way, is apt to leave considerably comfortless those children of men who could per- haps be wiser in their generation than the children of light. Idealism mends no broken hearts. It is no lasting substitute for bread and butter. If we seek in it the omnipotent prescriptions of quackery, we shall not find them. But while it cannot profess to cure the evils of this world, it does attempt to prevent them. It strives to teach the principles that in the long run will do away not with broken hearts but with the breaking of them, not with physical starvation but with the moral and spiritual conditions that lead to it. Compared with so fundamental a practicality, what has Pragmatism to show? A method which concentrates on mere success, and which fails to judge between this success and that, is, to the extent of such a failure, not practical enough. The chief quarrel of Pragmatism with the Absolute is its alleged supreme indifference to what the particular facts in our world really are. "Be they what they may, the Absolute will father them. Like AMERICAN POLITICAL SCIENCE ASSOCIATION 191 the sick lion in Aesop's fable, all footsteps lead into his den, but nulla vestigia retrorsum. You cannot redescend into the world of particulars by the Absolute's aid, or deduce any necessary consequences of detail important for your life from your idea of his nature. He gives you indeed the assurance that all is well with him, and for his eternal way of thinking; but thereupon he leaves you to be finitely saved by your own temporal devices." Now this is very true of certain phases of philosophy, and the more is the pity. But is it not in some measure true of Pragmatism itself? Anything may go into the den of the doctrine that anything is true if it works, that anything will work that is worked, and therefore that anything is true. But what is the practical result of this stupendous syllogism? What is to be worked? What shall we choose from among infinite possibilities? On what grounds shall we choose? A standard we must have, and a standard must be taught us by a philosophy with any pretensions to the name. When the pragmatist declares that "what is better for us to believe is true unless the belief incidentally clashes with some other vital benefit," he admits the necessity of a standard. Indeed, the pragmatist is continually going far beyond the borders of Pragmatism, and in so doing is making it clear that in order to be a good pragmatist you must be infinitely more. Thus Dr. James, when he says "The notion of God has this practical superi- ority . . . that it guarantees an ideal order that shall be per- manently preserved," and again: "This need of an external moral order is one of the deepest needs of our breast. The absolute things, the last things, the overlapping things, are the truly philosophic con- cerns; all superior minds feel seriously about them, and the mind with the shortest views is simply the mind of the more shallow man." The only trouble is that not every pragmatist is a good pragmatist; and that Pragmatism is apt to be hailed by many as a brilliant unim- peachable angel succouring and justifying the shorter view. They are apt to find in it the expression of their own resolve to be shallow, and to make it the splendid banner of their thoughtlessness. They are happy to proclaim their very want of method as itself a method; and, in repulsing attacks upon their rough and ready means to uncon- sidered ends, they eagerly find in Pragmatism their sanction and their name. "The influence of democracy in promoting Pragmatism," said the Edinburgh Review, "is visible in almost every page of William James's writing. There is an impatience of authority, an unwillingness to 192 PROCEEDINGS OF THE condemn widespread prejudices, a tendency to decide philosophical questions by putting them to the vote, which contrast curiously with the usual dictatorial tone of philosophic writings. Dr. Schiller at one time set to work to elucidate the question of a future life by taking a poll. William James claims for the pragmatist temper 'the open air and possibilities of nature, as against dogma, artificiality, and the pretence of finality in truth.' A thing which simply is true, whether you like it or not, is to him as hateful as a Russian autocracy." Now, it is quite true that at stated intervals democracy still pays its homage to freedom as a standard. It is quite true that democracy praises its constitutions, amid great applause, as the guardians of freedom. But more and more as we see Democracy at work, we find that freedom is quite forgotten in the exaltation of some shibboleth that has no meaning save as a means to freedom; that some constitutional abstraction is insisted on as an end in itself; that the immediate wishes of the people are considered as ends in themselves, and suffer no criti- cism from the standpoint of that liberty which, in politics, can be the only ultimate and lasting aim. And what are the results, as unexpected as the acts themselves are uninformed? Take, for an example, universal suffrage. As a notion and a name it has to do with liberty, but as a result does it increase the number of men able to protect their freedom, or does it, when exercised too soon, increase only the number of those able to override the freedom of others? Does it mean one man, one vote? Or does it mean that the practical politician who formerly manipulated forty votes to his own undemocratic purposes will thereafter manipulate forty score? Or take the cry for the recall of the judges, which is greeting the ears of some of us on this Continent. Here we have in its most glaring form the notion that voting is an end in itself, and that Democracy exists as a system in order that its momentary likes and dislikes may be exalted at the expense of all stability, consistency and order. The doctrine upon which was founded the chief, the most weighty, the most respected judicial body in the United States, that freedom was best served by making the dispensers of the law independent of popular clamour and of class interests, is to be laid aside without any reference to the real meaning and needs of freedom. It would almost seem as though Democracy might prefer to do away with the judges altogether and to substitute the pronouncement of a maj ority, through the medium of the daily press. We have recently AMBKICAN POLITICAL SCIENCE ASSOCIATION 193 seen the edifying spectacle of a large class of persons, who keep Democ- racy in their pockets, first of all subsidizing the defense of certain men accused of murder, and then, when defense became impossible, and when they were convinced that there had been, as their odd phrase put it, "a crime against unionism as well as against humanity," facing about and forming what is called "a country-wide movement to obtain the maximum punishment of these men," without any thought or reference either to the law which as citizens they set up, or to the judges whom equally they appoint to administer it. Oddly enough the same Democracy, constituting itself both judge and jury, is unable to supply from among its numbers twelve good men and true to try the case at close range. A cause cSUbre is presented to an astonished country in which the chief witness for the prosecution gives his testimony before an association of bankers; the advocate for the defense harangues not the Court but the newspapers; and the judge is besought to do anything but try the case and give the judg- ment. To such a pass does the pragmatic spirit bring those consti- tutional forms which an age-long struggle for reasonable safeguards of freedom has so laboriously attained. Let it be remembered, too, that at the very moment when Democracy seems about to take over a part of the constitution in which it was never schooled, it is abandoning to arbitrary committees just those subjects which it ought most assiduously to control. In the judicial sphere of the state where expert administrators could far better main- tain rights and prevent infringements than could any interested and short-seeing voters, an arbitrary ballot is to supplant an impartial arbiter. But of that department, embracing taxation and the free- dom of contract, where universal interest is the surest ally of liberty, commissions, discretionary and domineering, are to be handed the charge. In Canada, a new government proposes to put the tariff under the control of a commission. It will entrust to an executive body what should never be taken out of the sphere of parliamentary debate. It will turn into a department what ought to be the most constant of political issues. It will compromise the State, as far as can be seen, by the inherent views of only one of the political parties; and, by so doing, will be the most effective means of preventing any criticism of those views. All this will be done in the name of practicality, by men who have never considered for a moment the bearing of it all upon their constitution and their liberty. 13 194 PBOCEEDINGS OF THE To speak of the regulation of great corporations now being so elabo- rately considered on this Continent would require a volume at least. Perhaps it may yet be discovered by the people at large, or rather by those who will influence the people at large, that it is vain to attempt the cure of diseases, where you authorize, by high protection, the con- ditions that bring about these diseases. To those who believe firmly in this, there can be no patience with the foundationless practicality that first of all creates a vested interest by a taxation which is an infringement of the liberty of every one of us without furthering the necessary ends of the State, and that then interferes with the new rights which it brought into being. But where no one will dare to preach the true theory of the State, where everybody desires to do only that which is immediately practical, freedom must continue to suffer, in spite of all the statues, and all the orations. Similarly with regard to the commissions which are being formed to deal with the contracts between consumers and monopolies. How far these bodies will help to maintain the liberty of contract, how far they will really hinder it, are immense questions; but before these questions are considered, we are all hurrying into legislation, with the sole desire to be practical. In the discussions that take place from time to time with regard to the governmental supervision of public service corporations, you will find an infinity of speech upon the meaning of the phrases: "Going Concern," "Good will," "Fair profit," and the like: You will find almost nothing with regard to the function of the State, the liberty of the subject, and the propriety of resigning to the discretion of a few what should be under the discussion of the whole. In so far as these Commissions do serve liberty, Democracy has made a confession of failure. The trouble is that Democracy does not know it. But an essay cannot attempt to say what it took Mr. Lecky a book to declare. Let me simply quote for my purposes now his conclusions on this very subject of Democracy and liberty. "In our day," he says, "no fact is more incontestable and conspicuous than the love of Democracy for authoritative regulation. The two things that men in middle age have seen most discredited among their contemporaries are probably free contract and free trade. The great majority of the democracies of the world are now frankly protectionist, and even in free trade countries the multiplication of laws regulating, restricting and interfering with industry in all its departments is one of the most marked characteristics of our time." AMERICAN POLITICAL SCIENCE ASSOCIATION 195 Let me also quote, in comment, this from a recent speech of the Dean of St. Paul's: "The first duty of any one who wants to understand the signs of the times is a critical examination of current shibboleths and catchwords. It is quite as easy to hypnotize oneself into imbecility by repeating in solemn tones 'progress, democracy, corporate unity,' as by repeating the blessed word Mesopotamia. Democracy is perhaps the silliest of all the fetishes that is worshipped among us. The method of counting heads instead of breaking them is no doubt convenient as a rough and ready test of strength, and no doubt government must rest mainly on force. It is also arguable that democracy is at present a good instru- ment for procuring social justice and educating citizens in civic duty, but that is really all that any one has a right to say. To talk to the average member of Parliament one might suppose that the ballot-box was a sort of Urim Thummim for ascertaining the Divine will. This superstitution is simply our old friend the divine right of Kings stand- ing on its head. It is even more ridiculous in the new posture than in the old. There is absolutely no guarantee in the nature of things that the decision of the majority will be either wise or just, yet this ridiculous fetish stands grinning in our faces, and the whole nation burns incense before it." My point then is that Pragmatism is merely a philosophical expres- sion of all this, and a means to crown it with a dignity which otherwise it would lack. In consequence it is the more astonishing that Prag- matism should quote from Mr. Chesterton as to the immense import of plain theory. For Mr. Chesterton is quite right when you apply his statement to politics. It is another part of the present subject to show that the only ultimate power in politics is an idea, a theory, a principle, not a rule. Nothing is an end in itself; and where that is overlooked, there is no power. The sanction of the State is nothing unless based upon a greater sanction than itself. There is a standard of liberty by whose criticisms we must in the long run abide or we can make no progress. There is a force, invisible, inexhaustible, whose ends alone are supreme, and in touch with which alone our narrower ends can lastingly survive. The wisest of kings said long ago that the very true beginning of wisdom was the desire of discipline. He meant the readiness to be led by great principles; and the scorn of a practice that had no creed behind it, and no eternal path before; of a Pragmatism that did not know where it was going, or why, or how. In what way can that 196 PROCEEDINGS OP THE discipline come, by what possibility can it bring us to the Kingdom of our best and happiest, in a state where the only test of truth and of good is the power to accomplish quick and limited ends? How are we to achieve liberty if the mere power of a majority is to be exalted over the power of ultimate things; if the appeal is to be made to the essential tyranny of men, rather than to their overwhelming necessity for freedom? The more we ask these questions, the more we know that the greatest need of a Democracy, to-day as always, is an aris- tocracy, building advance on criticism; and preaching that truth and that good which, if they are made one with the universe, can never be taken away. That such a truth is already recognized by the State will be abun- dantly clear to those who, turning from the spasmodic turmoil of Democracy, will watch the sober progress of the common law. Democ- racies and majorities are accustomed to think of the law as the creature of law makers. Happily for freedom, happily for those who wish to guard in themselves that which they never attack in others, happily for all who wish to see the characters and commonwealth of men advance by a discipline which no machinery can teach, society is held together and governed, in the last resort, not by the might of numbers, not by the assertion of arbitrary power, but by the quiet sovereignty of an idea. We may see it in continual action; we may see it in continual restraint of action. We may know it as the constant critic of all other ideas, however pragmatic. We may know it as something vastly bigger, more far-reaching, more authoritative, than all codes, statutes, precedents, and rules. If all the legislatures and all the voters were to attempt to create a law of obligations that took no account of this idea, how futile in the end would be their bills, ordinances, and votes! If, when watching the interminable procession of deeds, titles and con- tracts, lawyers were to wish, by some wayward agreement, to consider harmless all flaws and irregularities, how simply they could agree, how unalterably they cannot! How irresistably it would appear that the legal principles which govern the greater part of daily life are not the arbitrary inventions of particular communities: they are community itself. And more than this. The Courts are beginning to recognize, although rightly they do not administer, the very essence of the moral law. They are beginning to declare that if a man does not fulfill a moral duty he may lose a legal right; that by failing to do as he would be done AMEBICAN POLITICAL SCIENCE ASSOCIATION 197 by he may limit the extent to which he can make the State his instru- ment. This attitude is purely negative. It does not move one step beyond the point of refusing redress in certain circumstances. It leaves to private will the doing of what one ought, and to private punishment, the consequences of not so doing. But it recognizes for State and citizens alike, arising out of the inexhaustible maze of practical affairs, the serene domination of a power beyond and above the State, determining its dealings, sanctioning its awards. To that power, free and necessarily recognized as free, belongs the discipline of this world, discovering that only when all willingly do their best by their fellows can we have a civilization and a happiness which shall stand; and that only the universal rule of such morality can put an end to the particular evils of men. Every other government that men may devise must fail: this alone can succeed. Every other must be judged by its fruits: this alone dominates fulfillment. Every other is abstract and provisional: this, only, is concrete and endures. If, then, the law of the State inevitably admits the law of liberty around it, we may be sure that every expression of the wills of men, and every instrument of that expression, including Democracy itself, must finally bow to judgment. "Until they do; until they acknowledge the law that is the only master of all because it is the only servant of all; until they know the limits of the State in the sphere of obligations: any constitution under any name can and will be tyrannical. In the long run, there is but one power to preserve men from absolutism. That power is the absolute itself.